Within African objects have been addressed differently within

Within Kopytoff’s cultural biography
of things (1986) Kopytoff approaches the notion of commodity by looking at
it through the context of slavery, and thus examines the potential ‘career’ of
a slave. When detailing his notion of enslavement as a process, Kopytoff describes
the acquisition of a slave by person or group, within which the slave is
resocialized and rehumanized by being given a new social identity, with the
potential for later commoditization. What becomes clear when reviewing Kopytoff’s
notion of slavery is a cultural biography that spans the merging negotiations
between commoditization and individualization within the slaves ‘life’. Understanding
and examining this biography makes visible a biography that allows the biographer
to examine the cultural and cognitive ideologies of a society. This biographical
consideration is useful when approaching not only the commoditization and
singularization of bodies but also that of objects. 

The realisations that Kopytoff’s biographical
approach provides when doing a biography of the Benin Bronzes, is a
biography of cultural contact, when ‘alien objects’ are adopted, ‘cultural
redefined and put to use’ through successive singularizations. What emerges
when examining the object biography of the bronzes is not only a history of
ownership but also a biography of successive singularizations that merge within
each age of the bronzes “life”. These successive ages outline a cultural
biography through the proximity of empires and periods within history. The
biographical approach gives context to how African objects have been addressed
differently within museum history and connects this history to contemporary
practices. Most importantly, this approach should allow for an understanding of
how these singularizations reflect the museum as instruments of power, where
new realities and meanings are produced through the singularization of objects. 

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